Dungeons & Dragons: The Complete Animated Series
Beyond the eye candy, the narratives' character development is a mixed bag. Ranger and group leader Hank is a blank slate. Sheila is Bobby's big sister, and occasionally gets some affectionate moments, but is otherwise dull. (She gets points for the freckles, though, looking like the little sister of Robin from the Mr. T animated series.) Presto the Magician bumbles about with his Felix-like magic hat, which accidentally assists our heroes on occasion. He's just another lightweight character, though. Bobby is something of a spark plug, and loves Uni like a pet, but only gets a few zingers. Diana shows even more spunk, and usually makes her presence known by reprimanding the character with more personality than the rest of the party combined: Eric the Cavalier.
Eric deserves a commentary onto himself, because he represents the heart (and arse) of Dungeons & Dragons. This refugee from The Planet of Easily Scared People is a gag writer's conceit that symbolizes everything the narratives try to do right, and why so much of Dungeons & Dragons goes terribly wrong.
The problem isn't that he's cowardly comic relief; the problem is that he provides no relief of any sort. I know he's supposed to represent insecurity and a lack of worldliness. The problem is that his antics represent every asinine impulse of the storytellers. The killer part is: He's everywhere! In nearly every scene, he moans, mugs, slips, trips, and quips. There he goes again, excessively asserting his presence, overstaying his welcome, and overplaying his hand.
Unlike contemporary cowardly lions on similar shows (Taranee of W.I.T.C.H. comes to mind), no one behind the scenes decided to tone down Eric's tantrums. Maybe if the other characters were given more appealing personality quirks and flaws, the storytellers wouldn't feel the need to make him a heel in every stinking scene. Did I mention that he sucks? I know that he's supposed to, but why do I have to put up with him?
Even worse than the character imbalance is underwhelming voice work for our heroes. It's not a matter of dry line reads, it's a matter of calibration. Nearly every line is an off-note in need of another take, and it really kills the sense of camaraderie. The dialogue is full of setups, putdowns, punch lines and the like, and it reads great in the scripts. It absolutely dies on the screen, however. "Traitor" and "Dragon's Graveyard" suffer greatly because the performances feature too much emoting and not enough subtlety. In the post-Gargoyles, post-W.I.T.C.H. age, this stuff is hard to hear.
Of course, there are old pros along for the ride. Peter Cullen plays big baddie Venger with a delicious menace. (The voice of Optimus Prime may have met his evil match with Mr. V.) I must admit that Welker's horse neighs and mutterings have a lot more personality than I expected. The little pony grew on me quickly, and I didn't want to throw her in the shredder with every other cute animal sidekick I can recall. And how about that Dungeon Master? Good ol' Sidney Miller, in the role he was born to play, deserves a place in Heaven for that voice. The last time I heard this melodious cadence was on The Pirates of Dark Water, as a shady salesman in the swamp. Miller's presence in Dungeons & Dragons is like Orson Welles's presence in the Transformers: The Movie, or Jeremy Irons's presence in the live-action Dungeons & Dragons film. Dude deserved better.